In February 2017 I had the honor and pleasure to be a working volunteer/guest at the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia. CCF is located approximately 45 km from Otjiwarongo and not far from the Waterberg Plateau National Park. This experience was life changing and has motivated me to continue spreading the word of hope. There is hope for our environment if we can all get on board and help people like those at CCF to save wildlife and their ecosystems.
Although cheetah conservation was new to me, I have been a hobby conservationist for several years. I have always been interested, but never really felt I could help and didn’t really get involved until 2013 when I saw a picture on Facebook that made me really mad. It was a picture of a young female elephant killed by a famous Texan cheerleader/game hunter/poacher. The elephant still had grass in its mouth. Seriously? I thought who would kill such a gentle being and kill her while eating grass. Really cheerleader, are you seriously proud of that hunt? Unfortunately, she looked super proud.
About a week later, I visited the Point Reyes Bookstore (my all time favorite bookstore in Northern California!) and found Daphne Sheldrick’s book Love, Life and Elephants. I just soaked in her story like a sponge. By the end of that book, which was the same afternoon, I had already made cash donations and adopted three baby elephants at the David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. I joined conservation meetups, got involved with March for Elephants and Rhinos, and dedicated a series of watercolor paintings to elephants and rhinos for donation.
In 2015, my husband and I were fortunate to visit Kenya on safari. We were able to visit our adopted elephants and spent a couple hours among them and other orphaned elephants and two ostriches, Pea and Pod. We had tea with the staff of Cynthia Moss’ Amboseli Elephant Trust in Amboseli and learned about their conservation efforts. Our trip was not solely dedicated to elephants. We were introduced to so many other threatened species such as the cheetah and rhino. I became hooked on trying to get the word out to help these beautiful animals!
I visited the Wildlife Conservation Network Fall Expo in San Francisco in 2016 and that is where I met Dr. Laurie Marker of CCF after her amazing lecture. She spoke of what I call a holistic approach to conservation by educating communities in regard to the human-wildlife conflicts, proper land management, habitat restoration and introduction of the guardian dog program. I loved how CCF was not only saving cheetah, but they were helping local communities thrive and become more educated. They are helping the entire ecosystem that cheetahs live in, thus saving many other animal, bird and plant species.
So, back at WCN, I nervously approached Dr. Marker at her CCF table and asked how I could learn more about cheetahs, as they are my favorite wild cat species. She immediately set me at ease with her friendly demeanor and said, “Why don’t you come to Namibia, we have a program for working guest volunteers.” So a few months later I found myself shaking the hand of Dr. Laurie Marker again at CFF at her International Research Centre near Otjiwarongo, Namibia.
I cannot say enough about my experience at CCF. I learned so much and loved being in the presence of so many people passionate about this cause. I tried to immerse myself in as many activities that I could such as walking the guard dogs, feeding the dogs, meat prep for the cheetahs, gardening in their organic vegetable garden, checking game cameras on the reserve, bird watching with researchers, and environmental education. It amazed me to experience the holistic approach CCF has toward saving the cheetah, communities and habitat. Their approach includes education, proper land management practices, genetic testing, and guard dog programs.
Dr. Laurie Marker explains this well in our podcast interview (listen to the end for a happy moment of zen with the cheetahs!, also listen closely throughout the interview and you will hear several birds singing in the background!):
I was also able to interview other dedicated staff members and an incredible dedicated young intern. Their stories are inspirational and informative. I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with them and get to know them during my brief but life- changing time at CCF.
How to find the podcast interviews:
1. If you have an iTunes account, search for BeProvided Conservation Radio. If you like what you hear, please leave a rating and a review.
2. Go to podcast page: http://beprovidedconservationradio.libsyn.com, you can also connect with iTunes here by clicking on the icon that looks like the one below which is at the top of the podcast page (top right hand corner):
Recently published CCF interviews on podcast (more to come!):
• Interview with Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder of CCF
• Interview with Lead Cheetah Handler, Ashley Flaig
• Interview with Lead Dog Handler, Paige Seitz
• Interview with Intern, Peter Humphreys Gonzales
• Interview with Michael Helms who helped get the genetics lab going with donation of a genetic sequencer.